Nunataryuk - Permafrost thaw and the changing Arctic coast, science for socioeconomic adaptation - Social Science Components

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area

Tags: subsistence, adaptation planning, climate adaptation, permafrost thaw, coastal environment

Principal Investigator: Gartler, Susanna (4)
Licence Number: 16531
Organization: University of Vienna
Licensed Year(s): 2022 2021 2020 2019
Issued: Apr 12, 2019
Project Team: Justine Ramage, Leneisja Jungberg, Shinan Wang, Susanna Gartler, Ulla Timlin

Objective(s): To identify the impact of permafrost thaw on subsistence harvesting and well-being in Arctic coastal communities, and to identify the risks associated to these changes.

Project Description: This project is part of a larger study called “Nunataryuk - Permafrost thaw and the changing Arctic coast, science for socioeconomic adaptation”, which is unique as it uses a circumpolar approach, assessing the impact of permafrost thaw in five Arctic communities in Canada, Greenland, Svalbard and Russia.

The main objectives are to identify the impact of permafrost thaw on subsistence harvesting and well-being in Arctic coastal communities; to identify the risks associated to these changes; to assess the adaptation strategies already implemented and co-design new ones; to raise awareness to the challenges that Arctic coastal communities are facing beyond national borders; and, to facilitate sharing of adaptation strategies across the Arctic.

The aim is to bridge the social and natural science components to effectively highlight the changes that might result from thawing permafrost at the community level. One of the key concepts is thus to engage with community members and to effectively communicate the results to participating communities.

The research team will identify the perception of change and risk associated with permafrost thaw that Arctic coastal communities are facing and highlight different challenges associated with permafrost thaw and the various adaptation strategies implemented in participating communities. Further, the team aim to understand what kind of ‘environment stories’ or narratives are most effective when it comes to adaptation and equitable mitigation, and how such stories can be purposefully created and perpetuated.

A community-based, participatory approach focusing on local needs and capacity-building forms the backbone of this research project. In terms of methods a mixed-methods approach will be employed including: 1) both qualitative and quantitative interviews with stakeholders, including walking interviews, 2) survey with community members, 3) focus groups, 4) visual methods such as collaborative video-making and photography, 5) media analysis, and 6) participant observation.

The proposed research for 2019 is based on semi-structured interviews with interest organizations, such as local Hunters and Trappers Committees (HTC’s), Parks Canada, the Inuvialuit Joint Secretariat, and government officials. These interviews will be either in-person or phone interviews and will take between forty-five minutes and one hour. The team will record the interviews using hand-held recorders. The interviews will allow identifying the existing institutional and policy framework that support adaptation strategies related to climate change and permafrost thaw.

The research team will then identify the perception of change by community members using a survey on the social impact of permafrost thaw. The survey was created by the researchers from the team and was discussed and adjusted with the local partners. The survey will be both carried out online and in person and should take around twenty minutes to complete. It focuses on the impact of permafrost thaw on subsistence activities, a challenge many people living in the Arctic are facing today. It will be available online with Survey Monkey and shared via social media. The survey will also be carried out directly with household members. To do so, the team will have a research assistant. This person will be recruited with the help of local partners. The team would like to carry out between fifty and one-hundred-and-fifty interviews.

During spring 2019 the principal investigator will travel to all interested and participating communities in order to recruit a local research assistant and set up the survey data collection. Furthermore, she will seek input regarding local research priorities in regard to permafrost thaw and study design. For the survey as well as interviews (and data collection during the following years) participants will be recruited via snow-ball sampling and the help of a research assistant. Participants may be of ages sixteen or older and any gender and will include both indigenous and non-indigenous citizens. Interviews will not take any longer than one and a half hour and will be recorded with a hand-held device.

Participants will learn about the causes and effects of permafrost thaw, adaptation, mitigation, scenario-building and collaborative film-making. Scenario-building will help communities adapt in time to future changes. Participants will also learn about the importance of story-telling in order to address climate change.

Video Project “Thawing Ground”: Involvement of Youth and Elders as well as other interested community members. Participants will learn about film-making and visual documentation and co-producing knowledge with scientists.

Adaptation to changes caused by climate change as well as equitable mitigation are two of the most pressing issues the world faces today. Recent studies suggest that, especially within younger generations, anxiety and other negative feelings occur more frequently now in relation to climate change. This study addresses the need to develop the ability to bring about positive change. It deals with the question of how effective adaptation and mitigation work and thus helps communities to address these issues.

While promoting more effective responses in the region, the outcomes of the study will also advance our knowledge and ability to deal with some of the most pressing issues of our times on a global level. The project aims first to understand what the specific issues are, that people are facing in Arctic Coastal communities when it comes to permafrost thaw and what strategies are being implemented to adapt to and mitigate these changes.

The results of the study will be made available to all communities involved with this project. Participating communities will be able to benefit from circumpolar knowledge identifying successful, culturally effective adaptation strategies, which are already in place, or can be developed in the future. The research team will inform all participants via email (or other means, if a person does not have an email address) about the results of the work. Posters illustrating the outcomes of the study and highlighting adaptation strategies will be made available to local institutions as well. There will also be a number of community meetings (at least one per year from 2020 onwards), where ongoing research results will be shared, and validated.

Following data collection in the first year, the team will produce a public report (published online) in lay language, which will be made available to the general public by email and online through the Nunataryuk Website and blog. The team will also produce a leaflet with the main findings, as well as a poster, illustrating the outcomes of the study and highlighting adaptation strategies to permafrost thaw that communities are facing. These materials will be disseminated amongst community members who participated in the survey via email (or other means). Results will published in academic journals and at conferences. Links to published articles will be available on the Nunataryuk website, where the team will provide updates about t activities, results and ways to participate.

The research team will contact local media, such as radio stations and local newspapers and journals to disseminate the results to a broader audience. Results will also be included in the ‘Atlas of Permafrost’, which will be created within the Nunataryuk project by our partners GRID-Arendal. This atlas will feature a page focusing on issues concerning the impact of permafrost thaw on subsistence harvesting.


The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from April 12, 2019 to June 30, 2019.